Youngsters leading Rebels’ Defense

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – It’s one thing to rally your teammates. It’s something else to lead them.
As coaches seek out players to take charge, invariably players follow other players who make plays.
A seasoned upperclassman might fit that description most of the time.
Right now, for the Ole Miss defense it doesn’t. Nobody’s making more plays for the Rebels than a redshirt freshman and a sophomore who earned just minimal playing time last year.
Playing time increased for Cody Prewitt last year as he started the last four games of his freshman season.
Denzel Nkemdiche, a defensive back in practice, was redshirted in 2011.
As Freeze and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack install a defense designed to get more speed on the field, Nkemdiche has moved to linebacker, while Prewitt starts at free safety.
“To be a freshman and a leader is rare in this conference. Denzel has kind of assumed that role defensively, he and Cody,” Freeze said.
Nkemdiche leads the team in tackles with 38, while Prewitt is second with 35.
Their fingerprints are on most of the Rebels’ big plays. Nkemdiche has eight tackles for loss and two sacks. Prewitt had two forced fumbles, an interception and a fumble recovery against Texas A&M.
Neither player is blessed with great size. Prewitt overcomes that by being a student of the game and putting in time in the video room to make sure he’s not caught off guard on the field.
“He studies hard to make sure he’s in the right spot. Whatever limitations he might have in people’s eyes athletically, he certainly seems to be overcoming them from his desire and willingness to prepare the right way,” Freeze said.
Prewitt’s desire actually worked against him in the spring as he tried to play through an ankle injury while Freeze and the rest of a new coaching staff were trying to evaluate players they’d not seen before.
By August, Prewitt’s health had returned, and his stock increased by making plays in camp.
stepping up together
“Me and Denzel are really good friends. We’ve been close since we got here, and us being on the field at the same time … we feed off each other a lot,” Prewitt said. “We’ve seen the defense feeding off that. We don’t feel pressure, but we feel we need to step up as leaders, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
Nkemdiche’s quickness makes him a frequent visitor to the opponents’ backfield, where he leads the team with eight tackles for loss.
He’s listed at 5-foot-11, 203 pounds, and his teammates have nicknamed him the Tasmanian Devil.
“When you got a guy like Cody, it’s exciting. We just feed off each other. We tell each other, ‘No matter age, no matter what, let’s be leaders. Let’s just keep showing up every week and performing.’”
Consistency has been a key for both players. Nkemdiche was the SEC’s co-defensive player of the week after getting 11 tackles against Alabama.
Prewitt has had fewer than six tackles just twice this season.
“I felt like the off-season was going to be crucial,” Nkemdiche said. “Strength coaches around the nation don’t preach that stuff for no reason. They mean what they say. If you really work hard, great things are going to come your way. That’s what I’ve gone by.”
Leadership extends off the field as well. Prewitt is prone to approach visitors in the football building, pose for pictures and answer questions.
“The thing that stands out is his concern about what happens in this program,” Freeze said. “He’s a perfect representative of our university as a student-athlete and for our football program as one of our leaders.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com
As coaches seek out players to take charge, invariably players follow other players who make plays.
A seasoned upperclassman might fit that description most of the time.
Right now, for the Ole Miss defense it doesn’t. Nobody’s making more plays for the Rebels than a redshirt freshman and a sophomore who earned just minimal playing time last year.
Playing time increased for Cody Prewitt last year as he started the last four games of his freshman season.
Denzel Nkemdiche, a defensive back in practice, was redshirted in 2011.
As Freeze and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack install a defense designed to get more speed on the field, Nkemdiche has moved to linebacker, while Prewitt starts at free safety.
“To be a freshman and a leader is rare in this conference. Denzel has kind of assumed that role defensively, he and Cody,” Freeze said.
Nkemdiche leads the team in tackles with 38, while Prewitt is second with 35.
Their fingerprints are on most of the Rebels’ big plays. Nkemdiche has eight tackles for loss and two sacks. Prewitt had two forced fumbles, an interception and a fumble recovery against Texas A&M.
Neither player is blessed with great size. Prewitt overcomes that by being a student of the game and putting in time in the video room to make sure he’s not caught off guard on the field.
“He studies hard to make sure he’s in the right spot. Whatever limitations he might have in people’s eyes athletically, he certainly seems to be overcoming them from his desire and willingness to prepare the right way,” Freeze said.
Prewitt’s desire actually worked against him in the spring as he tried to play through an ankle injury while Freeze and the rest of a new coaching staff were trying to evaluate players they’d not seen before.
By August, Prewitt’s health had returned, and his stock increased by making plays in camp.
stepping up together
“Me and Denzel are really good friends. We’ve been close since we got here, and us being on the field at the same time … we feed off each other a lot,” Prewitt said. “We’ve seen the defense feeding off that. We don’t feel pressure, but we feel we need to step up as leaders, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
Nkemdiche’s quickness makes him a frequent visitor to the opponents’ backfield, where he leads the team with eight tackles for loss.
He’s listed at 5-foot-11, 203 pounds, and his teammates have nicknamed him the Tasmanian Devil.
“When you got a guy like Cody, it’s exciting. We just feed off each other. We tell each other, ‘No matter age, no matter what, let’s be leaders. Let’s just keep showing up every week and performing.’”
Consistency has been a key for both players. Nkemdiche was the SEC’s co-defensive player of the week after getting 11 tackles against Alabama.
Prewitt has had fewer than six tackles just twice this season.
“I felt like the off-season was going to be crucial,” Nkemdiche said. “Strength coaches around the nation don’t preach that stuff for no reason. They mean what they say. If you really work hard, great things are going to come your way. That’s what I’ve gone by.”
Leadership extends off the field as well. Prewitt is prone to approach visitors in the football building, pose for pictures and answer questions.
“The thing that stands out is his concern about what happens in this program,” Freeze said. “He’s a perfect representative of our university as a student-athlete and for our football program as one of our leaders.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com